Promoting evidence-based decision-making in development agencies

Working and discussion papers
February 2012
Harry Jones

There is a growing political focus on the quality of aid. Energy and resources have been put into reforms to improve aid effectiveness by basing programming on evidence about what works, increasing the level of evaluation and strengthening evaluation rigour. This is a laudable ambition, but the measures being put in place to improve the production of evidence will not improve aid effectiveness unless they are backed by measures to promote the actual use of that evidence.

Past experience demonstrates the problems. Studies show that development agencies may or may not take on board lessons from evaluations, that the use of information on performance is largely superficial, and that agencies have insufficient capacity to absorb research. Previous efforts to improve evidence-based decision-making have failed because they have tried to impose frameworks from other fields, paying insufficient attention to the complex challenges faced by development policy-makers and practitioners.

In the absence of an all-encompassing model to deal with complexity, institutional innovation is the only way forward, based on an appreciation of real challenges facing development agencies.

This Background Note builds on recent research by the Overseas Development Institute into the dynamics of decision-making in development agencies. Drawing on over 100 semi-structured interviews, in-depth document reviews and surveys completed by over 500 staff, we recommend clear, practical measures to improve the use of research and evaluation for decision-making.